THE BLOG
05/08/2013 03:44 pm ET | Updated Jul 08, 2013

The Science of Preventing Crime

2054: In the movie Minority Report, imaginary Washington D.C. Police Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise) was the head of a special elite force responsible for reducing crime to almost nothing, by using super gifted humans called the pre-cogs, who were able to predict future events, and correctly visualize where, when and by whom a crime was going to be committed, hence helping the Precrime squad to avoid it.

2005: The Santa Cruz and Los Angeles Police Department decided to try a new approach to solving crimes. They wanted to know what criminals intended to do before they even started... doing it. They engaged scientists, mathematicians, anthropologist, and criminologist, to invent a system based on reality, statistics, probability and likeliness.

"I'm not going to get more money. I'm not going to get more cops. I have to be better at using what I have, and that's what predictive policing is about... If this old street cop can change the way that he thinks about this stuff, then I know that my [officers] can do the same", said Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.

We are not talking about fortune tellers here, but true science and hard facts. The assembled team based their research on models predicting the aftershocks after earthquakes, and other recurring events that were charted as models for predictions. These forecasters of a new kind invented the future.

Let's explain: Burglars for example frequently return to the same house they attacked before, because they know when it will be empty, have a certainty of what is inside that they have gained through scouting and predicting what, when, where and who. A sort of efficiency system allowing them to rob and re-rob many places previously visited. They may not have real science but their instinct is often right.

The new technology to help deter crime is called PredPol, a science fiction name to a real science that can predict the highest times and locations of upcoming crimes. Police officers get briefed on the highest-probability hot spots for the day, and constantly check with added attention the specific areas, as often as 15 minutes every two hours, deterring unwanted events at those spots.

Predpol website states that: "The program complements officers' intuition by targeting place-based prediction "boxes" as small as 500 feet by 500 feet. In contrast to technology that simply maps past crime data, PredPol applies advanced mathematics and adaptive computer learning. It has resulted in predictions twice as accurate as those made through existing best practices by building on the knowledge and experience that already exists."

The information is accessible from any tech device, via a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) format, as well as on paper. The cost is kept somewhat vague by Predpol press people, but they do reveal that it cost about the same amount as the salary of a new police officer.

Starting in several California locations, police departments around the country started using the scientific technology in 2011, and reports have been successful. Ironically, for security reasons, the cities and departments implementing the concept are kept somewhat vague but these facts are revealed by the Predpol company.

While providing a new tool for deterring crime rather than just responding to it, [the technology] has worked in the field, cutting burglaries in Santa Cruz, Cal., by 19 percent, and cutting property crimes in the first Los Angeles Police division to deploy it by 12 percent --in both cases, only six months after deployment in the fall of 2011. In the past year only, about two dozen U.S. and foreign cities have decided to use the technology, including Seattle, San Francisco, and Atlanta.

Welcome to the 22nd century.